LIV Golf Secures Multiyear Deal with Nexstar Media Group to Broadcast Tournaments on CW Network
LIV Golf, the Saudi-funded golf tour that launched last year, has signed a multiyear deal with Nexstar Media Group to broadcast the league on its CW Network, which Nexstar acquired majority control of last year. This partnership with the CW will give LIV Golf the potential to reach a wider audience, as the first event is scheduled for February 24th to 26th in Mexico. Until now, LIV events have been available online for free, including in the U.S. on YouTube.
The success of the partnership will be a primary factor in determining LIV Golf's financial viability. Since LIV Golf launched last year, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign-wealth fund has committed at least $2 billion to the rebel golf circuit, but it has lacked the main revenue drivers of major professional sports - lucrative media rights and sponsorship deals. To lure golfers such as Mr. Mickelson, Mr. Johnson and last year’s British Open champion, Cameron Smith, LIV has offered record-breaking prize funds at its tournaments and lucrative appearance fees. By poaching players from the PGA Tour, the Saudi-backed league has created a fissure in the sport.
LIV and the PGA Tour are locked in a court battle that is growing increasingly contentious. LIV and a handful of players are suing the Tour for allegedly violating antitrust law and behaving as a monopolist to dominate the professional golf industry. The Tour has countersued, accusing LIV of interfering with its deals in its mission to take over the sport, and has suspended the players that have bolted to the Saudi-backed upstart for violating their contracts.
Critics of LIV, including politicians and activists, have dubbed the enterprise as an exercise in “sportswashing” - or using the halo effect of a popular sport to improve Saudi Arabia’s public image. LIV has responded by saying its mission is to grow the game of golf globally with a new format to engage fans. Its tournaments feature 54 holes, instead of the traditional 72, with limited fields and a team element.
In LIV’s inaugural season in 2022, its commercial success was scant. While the tournaments were free to watch online, tickets were widely available for cheap sums. LIV has also struggled to find sponsors thus far. The real-estate developer ROSHN sponsored a LIV tournament, but ROSHN is also backed by the Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. LIV’s options for a U.S. media rights partner were limited. CBS, NBC, and ESPN have deals with LIV’s rival, the PGA Tour. Apple Inc. and Amazon.com Inc., which have begun buying the rights to live sports, had turned down LIV. The Wall Street Journal reported.
The CW Network, which has been primarily known for programming teen and young-adult dramas, will air 14 LIV Golf events on its broadcast stations on weekends and stream them on the CW’s app as well. Friday LIV events will not be broadcast but will be available on the CW app. The decision to align with LIV Golf is the latest sign that Nexstar, which owns 75% of the CW Network, is planning an overhaul of the network.
In conclusion, LIV Golf's partnership with the CW Network is a significant step in reaching a wider audience and improving the tournament's financial viability. The Saudi-funded golf tour has struggled to find commercial success in its inaugural season, but this partnership with the CW Network could change that. However, the tour still faces challenges with its legal battle with the PGA Tour, as well as criticism from politicians and activists who accuse the tour of "sportswashing" to improve Saudi Arabia’s public image. Despite these challenges, LIV Golf remains committed to its mission of growing the game of golf globally with its unique format, which includes 54 holes, limited fields, and a team element.
The decision to align with LIV Golf is a significant milestone for Nexstar, as it signals their goal to re-engineer the network and attract an older audience that is more in line with the viewers of its local television stations. Nexstar has been expanding further into the content business, owning the cable news channel NewsNation and political news outlet The Hill.
As the tournament approaches, it will be interesting to see how the partnership between LIV Golf and the CW Network will fare. The tournament's fate rests on how well it can attract sponsors and audiences, and how it navigates the legal battle with the PGA Tour. While the future of LIV Golf is uncertain, the partnership with the CW Network is a positive step forward for the tournament and its mission to grow the game of golf globally.